RYANAIR chief executive Michael O’Leary has in recent years been astute in his observations of the extent to which Brexit is damaging the UK, and his comments in the last couple of weeks have been no exception.

However, sadly, his seeming belief that the arrival of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister could lead to a more sensible, cooperative relationship with the European Union looks over-optimistic indeed.

Mr O’Leary, as is his wont, did not mince his words in his latest assessments of the troubled UK economy.

On October 18, at a news conference in Rome, he described the economic situation in the UK as a “car crash” caused by the country’s vote in 2016 to leave the European Union.

Referring to the mini-Budget of September 23 from erstwhile prime minister Liz Truss and former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, which involved huge tax-cutting moves and spooked financial markets, Mr O’Leary said: “The mini-Budget was a kind of spectacular failure of the whole concept of Brexit.”

Referring to the elevation of Ms Truss to succeed Boris Johnson, Mr O’Leary said: “She got elected by appealing to all the Brexiteers for the last three months and it is the ultimate, I think, failure of Brexit and the Brexiteers.”

This all seemed like a sound enough interpretation of events.

Ms Truss and Mr Kwarteng’s decision to reverse the rise in UK corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25% planned from next April was very much in keeping ideologically with the utterly flawed idea of an ultra-low-tax, post-Brexit Britain, with some Leave camp Tories for some entirely unfathomable reason seeming to think the UK and Singapore are very similar.

Thankfully, the increase in corporation tax, which it is estimated will raise £18 billion a year, is now going ahead again. However, that appears to be pretty much where the good news stops. And the Tories have threatened us all with a much deeper recession than necessary by going back on the Truss-Kwarteng promise of support on energy prices. This promise, for which Ms Truss and Mr Kwarteng deserve some credit, would have ensured the annual electricity and gas bill for a dual fuel household with typical usage would be limited to around £2,500 for two years. Following a U-turn, after the arrival of Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor, this energy price guarantee (which was not ideal at such a high level but was very helpful) now only runs until the spring.

Mr O’Leary, however, appeared hopeful last week of better times ahead in terms of UK-EU relations following the elevation of Mr Sunak to succeed Ms Truss.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event in Lisbon, Mr O’Leary told Reuters: “They are getting rid of some of the people who were there, from Boris Johnson to Liz Truss, all the Brexiteer wing of the Tory party.”

He said he was glad “adults have taken charge again”.

Mr O’Leary added: “We all accept that [the UK] left the EU. Brexit is done but at least have the best free trade deal you can have. Europe is still the UK’s largest trading partner.”

This is an eminently sensible point. And it would be great if Mr O’Leary were right and Mr Sunak and his Cabinet do take meaningful action to make trade with the EU much less frictionless. Of course, it was until December 2020 entirely frictionless. It would also be fantastic if Sunak and Co. reinstate free movement of people between the UK and European Economic Area countries.

Unfortunately, this looks somewhat unlikely, to say the least.

In 2016, in the run-up to the UK’s referendum on EU membership, Mr Sunak decided to strike out on a very different path from that promoted by then prime minister David Cameron.

Mr Sunak hailed Brexit as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity for our country to take back control of its destiny”, and declared: “Outside the EU, we can decide our own immigration policy.”

As the UK economy creaks further under the strain of huge labour and skills shortages fuelled by the end of free movement of people between Britain and the EEA, Mr Sunak appears to be maintaining a hugely detrimental anti-immigration stance.

He also appointed Suella Braverman, a hard-liner on immigration, as Secretary of State for the Home Department, soon after he was confirmed as Prime Minister.

None of this bodes well at all for any emergence of a more sensible approach to our long-suffering EU neighbours to mitigate the monumental damage of the Tories’ very sorry hard Brexit. We should also remember that Mr Sunak was chancellor when the UK left the single market, and seemed as enthralled by this as the rest of the Leave-heavy Cabinet.

It is, of course, always crucial to appreciate the true scale of the damage of Brexit, especially given the amount of absolute and utter nonsense that has been spouted by the Leave camp.

The Theresa May government’s forecasts, published in November 2018, showed Brexit would, with an average free trade deal with the EU, result in UK gross domestic product in 15 years’ time being 4.9% lower than if the country had stayed in the bloc if there were no change to migration arrangements. Or 6.7% worse on the basis of zero net inflow of workers from EEA countries.

We have, of course, had a clampdown on immigration from the Tories. And, in the wake of the Brexit vote, there was a plunge in net migration from EEA countries to the UK even before the foolish deed was actually done. This was hardly surprising, given the huge uncertainty created by the 2016 vote for EEA country citizens thinking of coming to the UK to live and work, or already settled in Britain, and also because of the insular “little England” message sent by the Brexiters to the world.

Mr O’Leary is absolutely right in his apparent view that some sort of resolution of the relationship the UK has with the EU would be a very good thing.

And reality seems to be catching up with many who voted Leave in 2016.

Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest Brexit tracker poll published last Thursday, in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe, found, if a referendum on re-joining the EU were to take place tomorrow, 57% of people would vote for the UK to join the EU, while 43% would opt for the UK to stay out of the bloc. These figures exclude the people who say they do not know how they would vote.

Including those saying they do not know how they would vote in such a referendum, 52% would vote for the UK to join the EU, 39% would opt for the UK to stay out of the EU, and 8% are undecided.

Either way round, there is a clear majority who wish to be in the EU.

Of course, there was a huge majority in Scotland to remain in the EU in 2016. There was also a big Remain preference in some other parts of the UK, including London.

What is clear from the latest polling is that the mood across the UK on Brexit has changed dramatically since 2016.

It is little wonder, given the huge hit we have seen to the economy and living standards.

And Mr Sunak would do well to live up to Mr O’Leary’s expectations on what will happen from here on the UK’s relationship with Europe.

Sadly, looking at the mood music, it would be best if no one holds their breath for Mr Sunak to do the sensible thing on this.

Read more by Ian McConnell:

Energy bills: Conservatives’ scrapping of promise is an act of the utmost stupidity

Rishi Sunak a serious player on the economy? Really? Relative to who?

Brexit could have taken many forms. Cheshire Cat Boris Johnson chose this one